By Jim Long
Is a rose an herb? Most people would say no, believing herbs to be merely parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and a few others. However, if you visit India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey or neighboring countries in the region, you’ll find the rose firmly planted in the list of important culinary seasoning plants. In fact, the rose is so important that the International Herb Association (IHA) has designated it the official herb of the year for 2012, and the Herb Society of America will be promoting the rose throughout 2012 as well.
Since I grew up eating roses, pea blossoms and redbud and tulip flowers, it wasn’t a big surprise to find roses used as flavoring during a trip to India. The traditional Indian dish gulab jamun—a pastry rolled into little balls and fried, then soaked in rose water and honey—is very popular. Just about any ice cream parlor throughout the country offers the typical chocolate and vanilla flavors, but rose outsells them both. Rose milkshakes, sherbets, sauces, cakes and cookies are all common, as well.
All roses are edible, but some taste better than others, and some should be avoided. Here are some tips for eating your roses:
• Eat only roses that have not been sprayed with insecticide, or grown using systemic insecticides and fungicides. Many systemic commercial rose fertilizers include chemicals meant to prevent insect and fungal problems, such as black spot. The rosebush absorbs the fertilizer, and the chemicals tag along. You don’t want to eat those.
• Choose roses that have a pleasing fragrance. If a rose smells good, then it’s going to taste good. You’ll find that many tea roses, as well as some of the endless-blooming roses, have virtually no fragrance, and thus no flavor. Red roses, generally speaking, have little fragrance or flavor, but the pinks, yellows and occasionally the white bloomers often have both.
• Never eat roses from a florist shop. Growing those fabulous long-stemmed beauties takes a lot of chemicals and fertilizers—and none of them are safe to eat.
The best roses to eat are those you grow yourself. Try the old-fashioned heirloom roses that are generally low maintenance and don’t require spraying or special chemicals to encourage blooms.
When choosing roses to grow in your garden, select plants that are blooming. Give them the smell and taste tests. Chances are if you like the fragrance, you’ll enjoy the flavor. Pull a petal from the rose and enjoy, but avoid the white area at the base of the petal as it is generally slightly bitter. The best time to harvest roses is midmorning, after the dew has left but before the heat of the day. As you harvest, place the petals in a barely dampened tea towel. If stored in the refrigerator, the petals will keep for up to a week without wilting.
INSTANT ROSE HONEY**
Whip this up after guests arrive, while the muffins are baking. Or serve with fresh buttermilk biscuits at breakfast.
3 c. fresh rose petals
¾ c. honey
Put the rose petals in a food processor and pulse until well chopped. Empty into a dish, add the honey and mix well. Serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 5 days.
RASPBERRY ROSE YOGURT SALAD DRESSING
½ c. raspberry yogurt
½ t. food-grade rose water
2 t. milk or water
1 T. finely chopped fragrant rose petals
Mixed salad greens
Blend the first four ingredients together and serve over the salad greens.
ROSE TEA SANDWICH
Cut prepared angel food cake into half-inch thick slices. Spread softened cream cheese on each slice of cake. Next, layer half the slices with lots of rose petals—mixing colors if you have them. Press the halves together to make sandwiches. Cut the sandwiches into smaller shapes and serve with rose tea.
ROSE AND BLACK TEA
1 c. boiling water
1 tea bag of black tea
1 heaping T. fresh rose petals or 2 t. dried
Honey to taste, optional
Pour the water over the tea and roses. Cover with a saucer and steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey if desired.
CHILLED ROSE SOUP
This is an elegant and easy dish for hot summer afternoons. Serve it with tiny cookies for dessert, or with miniature sandwiches at teatime.
4 c. fresh or frozen red raspberries, pureed in a blender
2 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 c. plain yogurt
1 c. whipping cream
½ c. buttermilk
1 c. fresh, fragrant rose petals
1 t. rose syrup*
2 t. sugar
Dash of cinnamon
Rose petals and fresh mint, to garnish
Place the raspberry puree, lemon juice and yogurt in the blender and blend briefly. Add the remaining ingredients and blend again. Chill for at least an hour, or overnight. Serve in small, chilled glass bowls and top each with fresh rose petals and a sprig of mint.
ROSE AND RASPBERRY SALAD
This is an elegant yet simple salad to serve before a main course of salmon or other seafood, or as a simple, healthy lunch with your favorite crackers.
6–8 c. torn spring lettuces
1 c. fresh red raspberries
½ c. freshly picked fragrant rose petals
½ c. crumbled blue cheese
2 T. toasted sunflower seeds or local pecans
Balsamic vinegar or rose vinegar, to taste
Arrange a helping of salad greens on each plate and top with the remaining ingredients. Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar or rose vinegar over each and serve.
ROSE SALAD VINEGAR
Gather enough fragrant rose petals to fill a quart jar—pushing down a bit to fit plenty of petals in the jar. Be sure to snip off the bottom white tip of each petal if it tastes slightly bitter.
Completely fill the jar with white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar—making sure all of the petals are covered. Cover the container with plastic wrap and set on the kitchen counter. Give the container a little shake or stir once each day for 4 days. On the 5th day, strain out the petals and discard them. To the liquid, add 1 level tablespoon of brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Store the vinegar in the refrigerator for up to a month. Use rose vinegar on any summer salad. It’s also good on grilled seafood.
*Rose syrup can be found at liquor stores or Asian markets.
** Recipes courtesty of How to Eat a Rose, by Jim Long
SOURCES FOR ANTIQUE ROSES
Look for fragrant old rose varieties from sources below, as well as Jim’s book, How to Eat a Rose. Find out more at longcreekherbs.com. Additional sources for antique and heritage roses online at edibleaustin.com.
Antique Rose Emporium
10000 FM 50, Brenham
7561 E. Evans Rd., San Antonio
Austin Rose Society
Barton Springs Nursery
It’s About Thyme